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go back to the last page you were on Coventry: November 14th 1940

Dorothy Gibbs

A collage of Coventry - the old and new Cathedral

A collage made by Dorothy.
The full picture is below

It was nearly tea-time on a Thursday, an ordinary day. This was always 'bedroom day' in our house, when Mum used to clean the bedrooms. This was a bit special though as she had some new furniture (I think the first real new furniture ever) and had done some decorating upstairs too. It all smelt nice and fresh and 'polishy'.

Dad was due home any minute and us kids were hungry.

Mum had just got to the bottom of the stairs dusting them as she came down. My dollies were asleep in their pram in the hall. As she reached the bottom stair the air raid sirens went. Mum did her usual routine of filling all available pots and pans with water ... just in case. She went round and made sure the blackout was in place and not leaking light anywhere. We didn't have an air raid shelter in the garden as many did in those times. Dad had supported the understairs cupboard with props and we used to go in there. The little ones slept on the floor and Mum and Dad and my eldest sister had chairs by the door.

We kids didn't mind going in there as there were posh biscuits in a tin (unheard of in those days). My young sister and I had dolls, in shoe boxes as cradles, in there too. We only were allowed to have those when in the shelter so it was all a bit of an adventure. I think we must have had tea but don't really recall that, however, it became obvious it was a big raid and we went into our shelter.

Dad had not come home and I remember thinking that was odd, he was always there when he was supposed to be. I remember wave after wave of planes going over and very loud bangs going off and the noise of guns.

The house shook from time to time. Mum tried to tell us not to worry, it was our planes sending the Germans away. We knew this was wrong as we knew the sounds of the different planes, kids used to take pride in knowing these things ..... but we didn't say anything.

I remember one VERY loud bang and the house really shook that time and there was dust everywhere ... it was scary. Dad still wasn't home. There was a knock on the door and it was the air raid wardens asking us if we were alright and if we had any water to spare.

Mum asked what it was like where Dad would most likely have been and he looked gloomy and said it's bad down there. "It's bad, Mother" was all he would say about the raid in general.

At one point Mum asked me to recite a prayer we had learnt at school .... it began, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble" .... She must have been scared witless herself and yet trying to keep it from us.

The night passed and then the "all clear" eventually sounded and we emerged.

Our house was a mess! The front had collected the worst of the damage, from the back it looked OK. The front door was up at the top of the stairs .... having neatly sailed over the top of my dolls pram on the way! Dollies were still asleep although covered in dust.

The windows were gone. You could see daylight between the living room and the front room of the house if you looked up! Our chair backs and cushions were draped over the telephone poles in the road and the pub opposite had caught the worst of the blast from the landmine which had caused all this.

The front room furniture and the bedrooms were all badly damaged, some beyond repair. The piano which was a nice little modern one, was badly damaged but survived, to be totally destroyed when it went to the repair shop later and that burned down in a later raid.

Still, we were all OK ... but WHERE WAS DAD? We children went to the gate and looked for him for ages and ages. There was so much going on with all the mess and air raid wardens still racing about helping.

A collage of Coventry - the old and new Cathedral

A collage made by Dorothy Gibbs showing the old Cathedral burning and the new one arising from the ashes as well as a page from her father's journal describing that night

There was debris everywhere but still no Dad. Then eventually great joy! A very weary looking, familiar figure appeared trudging up the road... pushing his old bike. He couldn't ride it, there was too much debris about. "Thank God you are all OK he said"..... and the house, it looks OK too. But this was the back... he couldn't see the damage from there.

It transpired he had tried to get home, dodging from public shelter to shelter but had eventually been ordered to stay in one of them till the raid was over. Our little world was much the better for having him back.

Of course, much later I found out that this was a minor part of what went on in the City that night.... our lovely old Cathedral was burning and totally destroyed, whole streets full of houses were gone and many, many dead and injured. In fact much of the City was destroyed, but a small child's perspective is much narrower than that. I was not quite seven years old at the time.

Later that day, they decided to try to get to my Grandmother's cottage in the country. We walked to a station in the suburbs.... not the usual one in town and managed to get a train to Banbury. We had no means of onward travel from there but a very helpful WVS lady persuaded an army vehicle to take us to Grandma's. We took another family with us from Coventry and when we got there were surprised to see that they were half expecting to see us.

That night, five of us kids all slept the wrong way round in one double bed. The adults slept wherever they could.... but it was heaven and QUIET too!

Again, it is smells I remember... this time of paraffin lamps in a nice warm kitchen with an ingle nook fireplace. Next day Grandma went away to stay with her daughter for the Winter, she was already going to do that and we took over the cottage for the next few months. As the winter ended we went back to Coventry.... just in time to get bombed out again but this time we stayed.

Written by Dorothy Gibbs
Email: dorothypandorasbox(@) To contact Dorothy, copy and paste the address and remove the brackets around the @ - thank you.